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Presidential search focuses on opportunities for W&M’s next leader

William & Mary’s next leader will need to embrace change while at the same time understand the university’s history, traditions and core values.

That was the theme of a discussion during the July 12 meeting of the William & Mary Presidential Search Committee.

“We need a president for the bold,” said Doug Bunch ’02, J.D. ’06, who serves on the Board of Visitors and the search committee. “We need to push the ball forward, and it needs to be done by someone with the energy and willingness to take risks but also with an understanding of what has come before.”

Bunch added, “I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.”

President Taylor Reveley announced earlier this year he was retiring on June 30, 2018, and soon after the search began to find W&M’s 28th president.

The July 12 meeting was the third formal gathering of the 19-person committee, which is made up of Board members, faculty, staff, alumni and student representatives. Vice Rector Tom Watkins chairs the search committee and W&M Chancellor Robert Gates serves as an advisor.

Watkins outlined the amount of work committee members have been conducting in between meetings. As of the meeting, the group had completed 78 listening sessions with several more planned before the search soon shifts to the second phase of using that information to draft and approve a leadership profile, or comprehensive job description, for candidates.

Witt/Kieffer, the national executive search firm selected to assist the committee with the search, will be working closely with members on the committee in developing the profile. Dennis Barden, senior partner at the firm, said they are in the process of meeting with members of the community and reviewing all notes collected by committee members during the listening sessions.

It will be important, Barden added, that the leadership profile provide candidates a complete picture of William & Mary, including successes and progress in addition to opportunities and challenges.

“You have an intimate but extremely complex community,” said Barden.

Committee members discussed broadly some of those challenges that need to be reflected in the leadership profile, including a future, sustainable financial model, the university’s current size of student body and whether some planned growth will need to be considered in the future, and the current campus climate, particularly with students, faculty and staff of color.

As the second oldest-institution of higher education in the country, the alma mater of three U.S. presidents, and a location that is the home to the birthplace of democracy in America, history and tradition are important parts of the W&M story. That same history, however, can still be a challenge, said committee member and recent Student Assembly President Yohance Whitaker ’16.

“The history of William & Mary can be burdensome or heavy for students that would not have been admitted 324 years ago,” he said. “That can be off-putting.”

Finding that right balance between honoring W&M’s values while at the same time looking for innovative ways for progress will be the next president’s major challenge, members of the committee said. Embracing change is important – but only if it’s thoughtful change with a purpose, they said.

“It’s not change for the sake of change,” said Lisa Roday, who serves on both the Board and the search committee. “It’s not so much about traditions for me as it is about preserving our values. We have values we never want to give up. That’s important for us to define. What is the DNA of William & Mary that we never want to give up?”

Work to draft the leadership profile will begin immediately, Watkins said, with a plan to have a document ready for approval at the committee’s next full meeting Aug. 30. Each member will be involved in that review process, he added.

In the meantime, the committee is encouraging members of the W&M community to continue to offer feedback or nominate candidates through the online forms available on the search committee’s website or email.

The committee’s charge is to present the Board of Visitors no more than three finalists no later than Feb. 15, 2018.